How to Stop Feeding the Anxiety – practical advice from Dr Paul Beadon, Rowans Psychology & Bereavement Service Lead
Feeling anxiety is one of the brain’s ways of keeping us safe; it is designed to make us vigilant for threat and responsive to danger.
But it often does its job too well, and this anxiety response can cause you to immerse yourself in news of the global progression of the coronavirus, and ruminate on what it means for you and the people you love.
It’s a scary time, so it’s no wonder that a lot of people find themselves worrying in just this way. But there are a couple of problems with this that are helpful to notice.
Problem 1: The mind often doesn’t do a good job of ‘balanced worrying’
We rarely spend time thinking about the best or average case scenario. Most of us rush straight to the worst case scenario, dreaming up the most catastrophic outcomes and convincing ourselves they’ll definitely happen.
Problem 2: We don’t just think through these worries once, reach a neat conclusion, develop an action plan and move on
Instead, most of us tend to keep letting the worried thoughts tumble around and around in our minds, turning frightening possibilities over and over until we feel overwhelmed.
In these ways, our minds are not always our best friends. While this is a normal, typical response for people under stress, it also causes strong, difficult emotions and physical symptoms of distress. It makes us agitated, short-tempered and can disrupt our sleep.
But none of the worrying actually changes the situation. So, what can we do about it? Here are some tips for soothing troubled minds.
Notice the Anxiety Cycle
It is important to notice this anxiety cycle, make a conscious decision to get off the merry-go-round of worry and focus on the reality of your present moment.
You may be thinking: “But the reality of the present moment is full of uncertainty and frightening possibilities.” Of course, there’s truth in that, however consider this:
As you read this, where are you? What can you see around you? What can you hear? What physical sensations do you notice in your body? Is this moment one that you can deal with? Perhaps you are sat in your living room, a familiar show on TV or song on the radio, cup of tea in hand. These are all things in your present that can help you can find some small happiness, pleasure or comfort.
Stop digging a hole of worry
If you find you worry more about what the future holds, you might believe that if you keep thinking about all the possible things that might happen, then you will be better prepared.
But this is a trap. The more you worry, the worse you will feel, and the bleaker this future outlook will become. You’re digging a hole of worry. I’m asking you to put down the spade and step away from it by anchoring yourself in the present.
Trust me (and importantly, trust the decades of science that backs up the value of training the mind in this way) and let’s practice the art of tuning in to the present, known as mindfulness. You can practice this approach each time you notice you are getting lost in worries and your stress levels are building:
- Say to yourself “Stop now and let it go”
- Stop what you are doing and close your eyes.
- Notice the sensation of your breathing as your chest and belly rise and fall, notice the feeling of your feet on the floor, and of the chair that supports you.
- If thoughts pop into your mind, let them go again and bring your attention back to your breath and body. Repeatedly practice letting thoughts go and come back to your breathing.
- For these few moments, just let your mind settle into noticing what is happening in the present.
- Once you have helped your mind to become more aware, you can start to make helpful choices and decisions. Open your eyes, and ask yourself: what can I do right now to improve my mental wellbeing?
You might decide to call a friend or family member (even if you’ve been putting it off because you’re worried about imposing on people). You might choose to go for a walk, play music, read a book, or put something engaging and distracting on the TV – consider turning off the News if it’s on, or closing the news app. The job of the media is to go over and over what’s going on and what might happen next, but we don’t need to fall into the trap of following their every moment of anxious speculation.
Access free mindfulness recordings
If you have found that this practice has been helpful, you might like to listen to a series of free ‘mindfulness recordings’ on the Education page on our website here, which guide you through attention-based mind-training exercises. (If this is your first experience with mindfulness, the body scan and mindfulness of the breath are both great starting places).
Take care of yourselves.
Dr Paul Beadon, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Rowans Psychology & Bereavement Service Lead
Our Pscychology and Bereavment team are continuing to offer support to our patients, carers and families throughout this time. If you have found Paul’s advice useful and wish to donate to support us, you can do so at www.rowanshospice.co.uk/donate-to-support-us. We are very grateful for your support.